“In all the dreams where you came and made love to me, none was more heartwarming than the one that I awoke from and found you still lying there… next to me.”
It was about 48 degrees Fahrenheit outside, and cloudy, so I dressed appropriately. It had actually been warmer when I left this morning. I had put on a pair of light, gray, calf high boots. They had little to no heel, and I could run in them. I also placed my three-inch blade inside of my right boot. I had a special pocket that I’d made myself, for three different pairs of my boots, just for this. My self-defense instructor always told us that the best defense was being prepared in any situation. And since I knew I would be breaking a few laws in the next hour or so, I prepared for it before walking out of the house.
I wore a black under armour long sleeve with a gray short sleeve sweater that hung to my thighs. My hair I bunched up into a long beanie that I had scrunched and folded in the back. I grabbed my sunglasses and placed them on my head.
The drive to the local department store allowed me time to think. I thought of where to park my car once I reached Jack’s apartment. My car was very distinguishable, so I knew I would have to park somewhere other than the bakery.
I walked into the department store and found a padlock, an LED Flashlight, and bolt cutters. I realized this purchase most likely looked suspicious, but I didn’t care. I left the department store two hundred and seventy dollars poorer. The Klein Bolt Cutters were extremely expensive. I could understand their cost, as it might deter criminals from easily obtaining them. It also told me they worked.
I left the department store and was a block and half away from the bakery. I parked in one of the spaces in front of the marina. I spotted Jack’s boat a little further down the dock, so I parked a good distance from that.
Reaching into my boot, I pulled my double-edged knife out and cut into the thick plastic that covered the blades of the bolt cutters. Once I had it open, I cut into the padlock wrapping as well. Throwing them both into my one-strap bag, and sheathing my knife back in its place, I got out of my car and locked all the doors. As I approached the bakery, adrenaline began to set in.
Have I gone completely nuts? What the hell Maddy? You are about to commit a crime.
I suppose what they say about love is true. It makes you do crazy things.
Regardless of my conscience telling me to turn back, I pressed on. I walked along the sidewalk on Front Street nearest the docks. I passed a street called Turner, and I knew the next street would be my destination. There were a few cars parked around but little to no people on the docks. This was usually not normal, but it was cold and windy out. I was watching the docks when I noticed a black car had passed Orange Street and parked. It appeared to be an unmarked Crown Victoria. If it was a police car, they were not being very subtle. With no traffic around, the car stood out like a sore thumb. Was this the same car I heard Jack talking about? Although the windows were tinted, you could see the silhouette of someone in the driver’s seat. They looked to be on the phone.
I reached Orange Street and waited a moment before I crossed. I tried to not appear suspicious as I crossed the street, casually looking off past the bakery. There were about four Mugo pine trees lined up on the corner, which hid the shed from the road. Without hesitation, and at my fastest speed, I darted through the pines, covering my face. I pressed myself against the back side of the small shed and looked down at my white Nike sports watch. It was about eleven thirty. I really was going to try to make it to ballet class. However, the truth was that the class didn’t begin until the next night at five.
I looked back through the thick pine trees at the black car. He still seemed to be looking up the street in the other direction, talking on the phone. I took that as my chance and walked to the front of the shed, looking around for a brief moment. Luckily the only window in the back of the bakery was Jack’s kitchen window, upstairs.
I saw no one around, and I quickly brought the large cutters around the padlock. I squeezed as hard as I could, only to be disappointed when it did not cut. I attempted again in the same spot, and they still did not cut through the thick steel. I decided to put each handle on either side of my inner thighs, right above my knees. I crossed my ankles and squeezed as hard as I could. The metal snapped, and the padlock hit the small concrete pad in front of the shed. Then the pain set in my legs where I had the bolt cutters.
Swearing was something I rarely did because it made me feel unintelligent, but Son of a bitch that hurt.
I crouched down for a moment, rubbing my inner legs, waiting for the pain to subside. I needed to move. Pushing through the pain, I picked up the broken padlock, placing it in my bag, along with the bolt cutters as I closed the shed door behind me.
I turned on my flashlight, and walked around Jack’s motorcycle. Every wall was covered with a canvas tarp. There were not many boxes, only six to be exact. Wasting no time, I walked to the back left corner and opened the first box. There were only crystal wine glasses in it. I set it down and opened the second box. There were only motorcycle and photography magazines in it.
Dammit, this is not what I expected.
I went to set the second box down, but noticed the address and name on the magazines.
Santa Ynez, California
California? I looked through more magazines to see if any of the addresses said Iowa, but none of them did. They all said Santa Ynez, California. One stack of the magazines were four National Geographic issues. Setting them aside, I was about to overlook them, but the name on one of the issues caught my eye. Achak Rider. Rider with an “I”. This was the same name the magazines were addressed to. I flipped through one of the issues. There were a series of photographs that had been signed by Achak Rider.
My breathing was heavy, and I felt myself becoming frantic as I rummaged through the magazines. I stopped when I realized they were all the same address and name.
I moved that box aside and started on the third box. As soon as my light hit the open box, my heart sank further down, and my eyes began to water. Panic set in, and my regrets about invading his privacy overtook me. I held up light pink baby pajamas. I set them back in the box and frantically dug through more baby clothes. What was I even looking for? I found something I did not want to find. The further I rummaged through the clothes wasn’t going to change anything.
I burst into tears as I fell to the floor of the small, dark space. My dream had only lasted a week. Why did I have to go searching for the truth? I was so stupid for doing this. Jack had a child somewhere, and he was most likely going home, wherever that might be, to see her. He had a family somewhere else in the world, waiting for him.
Once I regained myself, I moved the box of clothes to the side and opened the fourth box in the stack. The first thing in the box was a photo album. My blood felt hot, and my hands were shaking as I opened the green, earthy looking photo album.
The first picture was him kissing a blond girl on the cheek. A few more were him, and this woman, with what appeared to be his family. The man standing next to him was most definitely his father. They looked almost identical. His mother stood on the other side of him in the photograph. He had her eyes. I flipped through a few more photos of him and the woman.
The next page revealed Jack in a tuxedo with two other men dressed in gray suits. It appeared to be a wedding. As I turned to the next page of the album, I cried heavily in my hands, dropping the flashlight into my lap.
Once I regained my composure, I could see the wedding pictures with dozens of smiling faces. He was kissing, hugging, dancing - having a good time with the woman who was his wife. His wife. He was married.
Not able to take much more, I flipped to the middle of the album and wished I had not. These were professional images of his wife holding a baby girl; a beautiful baby girl, who could have passed for a porcelain doll. I flipped further ahead in the album, and this baby was on every page.
The little girl went from an infant to a toddler over the span of about ten pages. I closed the book and set it on the ground, as I felt heartsick. There was more inside the same box that the album came out of, so I dug through it and found a few envelopes. One envelope was addressed to Santa Ynez, California, and the other was addressed here. Both had already been opened. I pulled the contents out of the envelope that had been addressed to California. There were a few newspaper clippings. The newspaper cutout I unfolded had only been the title of an article. However, my heart sank at reading the heading.
Santa Ynez Mother and Daughter found dead in Lake Chachuma after deadly crash. Father still missing.
Reading such a truth about this man that I dearly loved was heart-breaking, to say the least.
Is this it? Was this your past, Jack Ryder? This is what you can’t tell me? You lost your family.
I folded it back up, placed it in the envelope with the other scraps of newspaper, and dropped it in my bag. Moving the box of envelopes, and seeing the items of the last box, crushed me. This was not my own personal heartache, but Jack’s. My heart broke for him, and I felt disgusted with myself for doubting him in anyway. Going to the lengths I had, because of my own insecurities, was shameful. The box contained a big section of his heart, a section I did not yet understand. A section I had dishonorably broken into.
The box contained little trinkets and anniversary cards - memories he held onto. I rubbed my eyes so that I could see past my tears. There was a garter that most likely belonged to the woman from his previous life, as well as a few articles of her clothing. The box smelled of women’s perfume. I opened up a fancy envelope that read, “For Ava,” on the front. The card looked like it was hand-made. It contained a photo of Jack and that woman. She was beautiful.
Ava. Her name was Ava. Just by knowing her name, I almost felt connected to this person. It was as though I had known her. What was important to her, was also important to me. There was a great sense of sadness at finding her name, knowing that she existed no more. Why did you die, Ava? What happened? The questions were not as rattling to me as my speculated answers.
I continued to stare at the photo of them for a brief moment, knowing that it held a great deal of sentiment. I was more broken-hearted, knowing that the secrets he held were justified. I felt like my mother. Nosy, doubtful, and troublesome. I was doing exactly what I became so angry with her about. The guilt that fell upon me was unsettling, and I knew I would not be able to live with it for very long. I hated secrets, especially the kind that bore guilt. I had to tell Jack what I had done, and try to apologize to him. I put back the anniversary card, but kept the newspaper clipping to prove to myself my findings.
As I brought myself to my feet, I noticed that a tarp in the right corner of the shed covered something. Walking over, I could see there was a box beneath it. Pulling off the tarp revealed an unopened wooden crate that had no return address on it. It did however, say his name on the top. Without even second guessing myself, I pulled the knife out of my boot and cut the plastic straps securing the lid. There were a lot of packing peanuts, and shriveled up cardboard. As I dug through it, my hands brushed cold metal at the bottom. I reached in and pulled out a pistol. I studied it for only a moment before dropping it back into the box. I dug through all the packing and noticed more guns as well as ammunition. I stopped digging through the disquieting mess because I didn’t like these answers. The secret about his past family was understandable, but what was this? Maybe he was just a collector and used them for sport. The more I thought about it, the more it didn’t add up. The large crate held a small armory. I really wanted to leave.
I began to put things back where they belonged, but jumped slightly when I heard some noise outside of the shed. My footing was lost, and I fell against the back wall. Trying not to hit the ground, I grabbed at the canvas tarp hanging over the back of the shed. This didn’t help, and I fell anyway, pulling the canvas down with me. I jumped to my feet, quickly brushing myself off. My body jumped again as my light skimmed over what had been covered by the canvas that now lay on the concrete floor.
An ill feeling hit me. I studied the wall, trying to make sense of what I was looking at. There were times and dates. Pictures of police officers. Maps with tacks, and strings to destinations next to written time stamps.
What was this? What was I looking at?
It look liked something being carefully planned. A mission, or an end, perhaps. I only noticed a few names that did not start with Officer, or Sergeant. Officer Tellar was a name circled in the middle, and there was a picture to go with it. I backed up to the shed entrance, wanting to escape what was feeling like a nightmare.
I could not bring myself to pull my light away from the wall, however. I only instinctively turned the flashlight off when I heard the sound of a car outside, followed by a door closing. Perhaps it was someone who worked at the bakery. I cursed silently as I heard footsteps going up to Jack’s apartment, and I waited for the engine of the car to depart, or at least turn off. I stood in place, waiting for my deceit to be realized, the door to the shed would open, and Jack would find me. But that moment never came.
The vehicle sounded like it was parked where Jack’s truck should have been parked, under the tree.
Finally, after about twenty minutes, the car sound trailed off. I waited a bit longer and then began to open the doors. I stopped again when I heard what sounded like Jack’s apartment door, followed by footsteps on the stairs. Shortly after the footsteps came to a halt, I heard a few car doors slamming.
What the hell is going on out there?
I peeked out of the front of the shed. There didn’t appear to be anyone. With no hesitation I stepped out, pulling the new padlock out of my bag. After latching it on the doors of the shed, I stood there for a brief moment, staring toward the entrance of his apartment. The door was not visible, only the back railing of the small deck.
What was all the commotion I heard? Jack shouldn’t even be home right now. He should have been gone already, and working at my house. I felt afraid, and concerned for him. Maybe my own deceit was giving me the jitters.
I moved forward quickly and peeked around from the back of the bakery. My heart sank when I saw Jack’s truck still sitting under the tree.
Why is he still here? Did he come back? Something must have happened.
I stood where the back of the bakery met the stairs to Jack’s apartment, thinking of what I should do. My concern for Jack won against the thought of having to tell him why I had been there in the first place.
I walked up the stairs as quietly as I could. I lightly knocked on his door, but no one answered. When I checked the door, the handle turned, and I pushed it open. I yelled inside for Jack before stepping past the threshold.
I entered the apartment slowly and silently. Something immediately felt wrong. The chair in front of the computer was tipped over. His truck keys still lay on the counter.
“Jack! It’s Maddy. Are you here?” I said, hearing the fear in my own voice.
I waited, but heard no answer. The only sound was my own beating heart, reverberating in my ears. I knew that if I was going to do anything, I would have to be quick. I decided to call out one more time.
“Jack. I’m afraid. Please answer me…” I repeated, my voice dropping out of pitch from the emotion.
When I again received no response, I wasted no time in walking over to his laptop. Right on the kitchen table, next to his laptop, was a printed piece of paper. It read the flight number and the time of departure. He was flying out of Michael J. Smith Airport with a layover in Chicago. The destination was Santa Ynez, California. Because of all the clues I’d found pointing to California, this did not shock me. I somewhat expected to find this.
His computer, however, was opened to a Google search for someone named Officer Salvatore Rivieri. Another name to go with the rest that hung on the wall of his shed.
I scrolled through the searches that showed on the first page. The words California State Police stood out like white on rice. My level of stress grew when the thought of the black Crown Victoria came flooding back into my mind.
Someone was looking for him.
I had all of this information, but the dots needed connecting. In that moment, everything came crashing down. The stress was not allowing me to keep my wits. I needed to leave, to sit somewhere and think.
I began to cry, silently. I felt more concerned for Jack than I did myself. I didn’t care if he was in some kind of trouble as far as the law was concerned, I couldn’t let anything happen to him. I had to do something. I trusted him. I loved him. There was a reason he wasn’t sharing this information with me. It all felt dangerous.
I began to walk out of his apartment, but stopped when I remembered the phone. I turned around, opened the cabinet under the sink, and set the telephone on the kitchen floor. I hit the redial button and waited. The first ring never finished before someone picked up.
“Jack?” I heard the man on the other end say, almost frantically, and expecting it to be Jack.
I didn’t respond when I realized I had no idea what to say.
“Hello? Jack, are you there?”
“Hello… Hi… This isn’t Jack,” I said, my voice sounding horse.
“Who the hell is this?” the man asked.
I had to swallow before I was able to answer, feeling the large lump in my throat as I fought back more tears.
“This is Madalyn. I’m Jack’s girlfriend. I’m so sorry to have called you from Jack’s phone. He doesn’t know I’ve done this,” I began to say, before getting interrupted.
“Where the hell is my grandson?” he yelled.
My body jumped at the sound of his anger.
“Sir, I’m so sorry. Please, I don’t know where Jack is, and both of his truck and motorcycle are here. I was here last night when you called, so I knew where to find this phone. I came here looking for him. Do you know where Jack is?”
“Weren’t you with him? I don’t even know if I trust you, lady,” he answered.
“I know you don’t know me, but Jack means a lot to me… I love him very much, and I’m afraid,” I cried.
Jack’s grandfather calmed down as he picked up on my distress.
“Listen, sweetheart. I don’t know where he is at this very moment, but I just spoke to him not even twenty minutes ago from this phone. I have some information, and I’m telling you, you need to get the hell out of that apartment right now. You may be in serious danger.”
My entire body stiffened as my adrenaline kicked into overdrive at his warning.
“Listen, Madalyn. I think I need to be in touch with you. Write down this number, and call me from a different phone once you are out of the apartment,” he advised.
I stood up, fumbling through the kitchen drawers for a pen. I found a pencil and Jack’s keys to his boat. I grabbed them also in case I needed another escape. I snatched the paper with his flight info off the table and wrote down the number as it was told to me.
“Okay, thank you. I’ll call you very soon,” I told him.
“Listen, if you don’t call me back in half an hour, I’m calling the police and sending them over. That would be very bad for Jack if I were to do that, but I’m concerned for you. Please call me soon.”
“Let me read the number back to you,” I said, sounding shaken to the core as I repeated the number.
“That is correct. Now get out of there, sweetheart,” he said.
It felt as though my feet never touched the steps going down from the apartment. I ran past the shed, stopping at the pine trees. I looked through them to make sure no one was waiting for me before I continued. I noticed the black unmarked car pulling out of its parking space and speeding down Front Street. There was a man in a ball cap, black jacket, and blue jeans chasing after it.
Oh no. Something was happening.
When the man in the ball cap passed, I stepped through the pine trees, trying not to appear suspicious. Waiting only a moment on the corner of Orange and Front Street, I watched the black car as I began to cross. The car stopped at the next block for what seemed like a long time. The man chasing almost made it to the passenger door before the car sped off, turning left.
Running back to my car would put me too close to the man in the ball cap. I headed down the dock toward Jack’s boat and collapsed down into the captain’s seat when I reached it. I pulled my cell phone out of my bag and unfolded the piece of paper with his grandfather’s number. I quickly dialed in the number and listened to the ring. While I waited for it to start ringing, I pulled the bolt cutters out of my bag and threw them into the water along with the dead bolt. It panicked me to think I had ties to his apartment, knowing something bad was happening. His grandfather picked up after the second ring.
“Hello, Madalyn?” he answered.
“Yes, hi. It’s me. I’m sitting in Jack’s boat. Listen, I heard Jack the other night talking to you about a black unmarked car. That car was just here, and as I walked outside it took off down the street with someone chasing it on foot. I don’t know if that means anything, but it’s got me really scared,” I told him, without taking a breath.
“Did anyone see you?” he immediately asked.
“Not that I am aware of,” I answered.
“Maddy, you have no idea what bullet you have dodged. Sweetheart, you seem like a nice lady, and I’m sorry that you are most likely involved now in this mess. Are you sure you are not being followed?” he asked, causing my heart to beat faster.
“No… I don’t know. I hope not. Why would I be followed?” I barely held my composure.
“I don’t know what brought you back to Jack’s place, but not even a half hour ago, there was a man in there, a very dangerous man, who probably had every intention of killing him,” he told me.
I held my breath at his words, and my body seemed to freeze in place. “Okay, now you are really scaring me. Is Jack okay?” I cried.
“Jack was fine when I spoke to him. Unfortunately for his intruder, my grandson heard him coming.”
“What does that mean?” I questioned.
“You seem like you have a sharp mind. I don’t think I have to tell you what happens if you try to back a lion into a corner.”
His words bared a heavy weight on my heart, and I tried escaping the thought that Jack was capable of doing what his grandfather was implying.
“Sweetheart, what has he told you?”
“I know nothing. I only have bits of information that don’t match, and I’ve found all of this out myself,” I replied, trying to move from one word to the next past my crying.
“This would not be the first time someone has tried to end his life,” he continued. “My grandson is not that easy to kill, it would seem.”
My heart felt sick at what I was being told. I felt weak and full of anxiety. Where was Jack?
“Sir, I’m sorry, but you are really frightening me,” I said again, feeling the phone shake against my ear.
“Sweetheart, you must love Jack?” he bluntly stated, yet questioned.
“If you only could fathom how much,” I replied.
“Then you need to know the truth. I’ll explain this as clear as possible, and you can choose to believe me if you want. A little more than two years ago, Jack was out with his wife, and my great granddaughter, photographing the landscape. That was his profession, and that’s putting it lightly. It was his passion. He stumbled upon what appeared to be a drug bust, only to see a handful of California police, some state police officers, execute about a dozen people, and rob them. They spotted Jack as he and his wife fled back to their car. These Police chased him down and steered them over a ravine into Lake Chachuma.”
I nearly fainted at the shock of what I was being told.
“Oh my god…” I whispered, holding my hand to my heart.
“Jack somehow was thrown from the vehicle into the lake. He suffered few injuries, and only some memory loss. When he came to, he pulled himself out of the water, making a twenty-mile hike back to Santa Ynez in the middle of the night.”
The sense of foreboding I felt was keeping the tears from falling. It could have also been the adrenaline.
“The good cops,” he continued, “if there is a such thing in this world, eventually called off the search for him after four months. They went on record stating he was dead. We had a funeral for him even though a few of us on the Chumash council knew he was alive. We had to keep him hidden. We kept him while we devised a plan to keep him safe. I paid a lot of money to the right people to get him safely across the country.”
“Sir, what did Jack say after you spoke to him?” I asked.
“He said he was going to get rid of the body. He said he had a sure way, and was going to call me when he was done,” he explained, and then cleared his throat before speaking again.
“Listen Maddy, my grandson is special. I’ve never known anyone like him. He can be dangerous. And when he’s been forced into a corner, he’s the most dangerous. If he were to go down, the world around would come with him,” he explained. “If I was you, I would run now. Get away.”
His warnings were more frightening to my heart than I could bear.
“That’s impossible. Remember when you asked me if I loved him? Tell me not to breathe, it would be easier for me. I visited that place once when I was younger, and your grandson was there. I know how special he is. I’ve known this since I was very young.”
Movement down the dock caused me to look up from the boat. The man with the ball cap was back. He seemed to be looking in my general direction, creating a flow of adrenaline in my blood.
Jack’s grandfather started to speak, but I interrupted him.
“Hold on a second, there is someone coming down the dock. I think he’s looking at me. It’s the man who was chasing the black car,” I whispered into the phone.
“Sweetheart, you need to get out of there now,” he exclaimed.
I panicked as the man closed in, and I realized that I had nowhere to go, and no time to make an escape.
“I have nowhere to go, I’m trapped,” I whispered as the man stopped at Jack’s boat. I looked up at him, but left the phone to my ear.
“Miss, is this your boat?” he asked.
My panic immediately changed into an uneasy calm as my self-defense training brought itself to the front of my mind. I felt my body making preparations.
“Yes,” I simply replied.
“Okay, so, the man that was with you Thursday night when you went out on this boat, where is he now?” he asked, and my panic turned into an anger at the idea that this man had been watching Jack and I.
“That is none of your concern,” I said, trying to stand my ground, but sounding absolutely frightened.
“That is the wrong answer,” he flatly replied. I was beginning to think this man was a cop.
“Miss, step out of the boat for me please,” he added.
Yes, he was a cop.
But he had not identified himself as such, and he was also not in uniform. There was no way in hell I was going with him. I could hear Jack’s grandfather telling me to run.
“Miss, get out of the boat! Now!” he yelled, causing me to jump and drop my phone.
I knew the time for action had come. I was not going anywhere with this stranger, but I had to gain the upper hand. I stood up and walked to the dock. I reached up with my left hand, wanting him to pull me out of the boat. I noticed in my peripheral vision that the black unmarked car was pulling into the same spot it had been in earlier.
I have to get out of here, but I need a window to make my getaway.
He did exactly as I wanted. He reached with his right hand and began to pull me up to the dock. The moment my right foot hit the edge of the dock, I reached down with my free hand and pulled the three-inch blade from my boot. The man let out a scream as I drove the blade into his elbow and gave a heavy tug, to cause as much pain and injury as possible. He still held my left hand, and would not release it. He swung his free hand, making contact with the right side of my face, knocking me back into the boat. My death grip on the knife made him scream in pain as it sliced out of his elbow and fell back into the boat with me.
I smacked my head when I hit the floor. Instinctively, I tossed the knife like a boomerang at my attacker. I did not miss. Without a sound, the blade stuck into the right side of his stomach. He looked down in disbelief at the black handle. The moment I saw the gun being taken from his jacket, I only thought about Jack. He raised his left hand, holding the firearm, pointing it toward me. I could only lay on the floor of Jack’s boat, waiting for my end to come. I only wanted to see Jack one last time. My vision tunneled, and I felt myself beginning to fade out.
The pop of the gun was felt and heard, but there was no pain. I felt something above my head shift in place, and the cold wind blew across my face.
And there he was, just as he had been when I was thirteen, alone, and within an inch of my life. My own personal angel appeared swiftly at the back of my attacker. He put his left arm around the hand holding the gun and threw his palm, with unrelenting force, into my attacker’s elbow. I could hear the sound of his elbow being hyper-extended and the ligaments torn. He let out a scream that was immediately muffled by Jack’s right arm wrapping around the man’s face. In a swift, fluid motion, Jack took one large step backward while holding the man’s head and twisting his body subtly. Jack’s movements appeared to be unforgiving to the human body. My angel was already dragging my attacker’s limp body into the boat before I had time to scream at the sound of his neck popping.
Jack crouched in the boat and brought himself next to me. I threw my trembling arms around him, and felt as if I had been resurrected from a terrible place I was unwilling to go; a place where I could no longer be with my angel.
“Jack!” is all I could scream as I draped myself around him. He held fast to me, not letting me go as I cried with uncontrolled body tremors. His grandfather’s words kept replaying in my mind. “My grandson is special.”